If you and I were to sit down for a cup of coffee, you’d probably not notice anything out of the ordinary about me. I’d come across as stable and fairly put together. And, largely, I am. Outwardly I’m settled, albeit subdued.
But apparently my body has been keeping score, according to Dr. Bessel Van Der Kolk in his book of the same title. I will spare you the gory details, but there’s a lot going on right now in my body that clearly has stress written all over it. Turmoil, trauma and stress…the stuff of our lives over the past year, is doing a number on all of us whether we acknowledge it or not.
We are all in some form of shock.
I saw someone tweet a question to his “elders”, i.e. people my age. He asked if the distress we’re experiencing over the 1/6 attack on the Capitol is equivalent of that during Watergate. My internal reaction was “heck, no!” This is far worse! And, in my opinion, even the 9/11 attacks weren’t as emotionally debilitating as this national internal insurrection. Throw in the still deepening pandemic tragedy and our economic disaster and we have trauma at historic levels.
I’ll say it again. We are all in some form of shock.
I am no psychologist, but I have worked with thousands of emotionally struggling people over many years and am clear eyed enough about my own post-traumatic stress that I have some thoughts about how we might face and deal with our turmoil.
First, seek help from qualified professionals. I’d encourage you to trust the science of psychiatry and therapy. Doctors and therapists can prescribe processes and medicines of healing and reassurance that will help calm your inner storm. I sat down with my personal doctor and took her advice on medications that have blunted the effects of stress. You are not weak if you seek expert advice and direction. And, by the way, your family will thank you. When I get emotionally worked up, I am insufferable. So are you.
Talk. Get out what festers within. Peter Drucker, management guru, suggests “we need to talk out loud our confusion.” Get with your people and download in the safety of committed relationships. When your “cord” is woven with the “cords” of others it is not easily broken. The other day we sat around the table with a few family members debriefing our feelings and fears. We didn’t solve anything, but it was sure good to hear that others are thinking what I’m thinking. I felt less crazy. And it’s hard to overstate the healing power of words of affirmation.
Say no to conspiracy theories. Doom scrolling is bad enough. Fixing on cascading bad news is not good. You and I know that. But stepping into the world of crazy is way more dangerous. Conspiracies incessantly tell you that there are monsters under your bed. Buying into the insanely false world of QAnon and other treacherous lies will keep your stress at unmanageable levels and wear down your conscience which protects you from going down the rabbit hole even further.
Curate your sources. Work hard to limit the advice and information you are receiving to people who have integrity. Stop with the blanket indictment of “fake news” and instead pay attention to those who you inherently trust. Those who have spiritual authority in your life (and by spiritual I don’t necessarily religious. I wrote about this a few weeks ago. Bottom line, I trust the advice of people who are smart, honest, patient, kind, peaceful and long-suffering. I especially listen to people who do not lie. For instance, I listen to Anthony Fauci and others like him.
Practice spiritual disciplines. If you are one who believes in God, then set aside time and energy to engage in those spiritual activities that build resilience and peace. Prayer, of course, is essential, but I have found that solitude, silence, journaling and the lesser known practice of examen are also extremely helpful in stilling the internal chaos.
Leverage this trauma. You and I can make use of our agitation by allowing it to form us and help us discover our purpose in this world. What currently breaks your heart? Where do you see the greatest need? What passions have been aroused in this time of turmoil? What part of this broken world speaks to you, inviting you to intervene? Callings are formed in crucibles. Your unique life story and personality combined with your innate gifts and deep passions now inflamed by the tumult of this season is the stew from which your destiny can emerge. Yes, you can really change this world and the lives of people affected by the pain of this moment in history.
Yes, we’ll get through this. But I hope we emerge intact and inspired.